Like the pictures, this story is the property of White Wolf through the Camarilla Australia and has been published in Beyond the Sunset, Camarilla Australia's magazine as well as being my own intellectual property. Do not use it without permission.
The following story is based upon the perceptions of the character’s views at the time this story is set, whether or not those perceptions were true or accurate. They do not represent my own views, opinions or perceptions.
PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS
Cold, hard cracked cement and bitumen, more forgiving but still cracked flew beneath her feet. Buildings had tumbled and large cracks racked the land but the damage and devastation that had been wrought in Melbourne by the earthquake wasn’t nearly so bad here in Dandenong. Primal fear kept her on her feet and as her high-heeled boots ate up the uneven ground and put distance between her and those who sought to harm her and she didn’t trip.
Howling winds caused her hair to whip at her face in the growing storm. The tempest was not natural but then neither were these emotions that seemed in-tuned with it, building and roiling thunderheads in the turmoil of her demented mind. She didn’t fear the storm but had an irrational fear of what it would bring. In the same way she avoided puddles and gutters as though water was anathema, never missing a beat as she jumped over or skipped around them. She had never been afraid of water before but she was now. Mortally afraid.
Whatever she felt for the perceived dangers of precipitation paled when compared to the thought of what waited back there, back at the Symposium.
She feared them. She feared them, she feared herself and what she was, she feared the elders who sought to bring her down through their younger lackeys, who had humiliated her. Shame that her mistakes had let her clan down weighed in her heart like the albatross around the Mariner’s neck.
Beneath it all anger burned red hot, heating the albatross’ beak and causing it to scald her heart. How dare they? How dare they! The accusations they had levelled against her had only the merest grains of truth and had been twisted out of all proportions.
Hate, anger and above all fear seared through the Primogen’s mind as she ran, her cloak fanning out behind her in the storm’s portentous gale.
Where were her bodyguards now when she needed them? Darius, who normally filled that role, or at least pretended to, had been too distracted with the disappearance of Lady Gretchen so he had appointed a dæmon hunter to watch over the Tremere Primogen. The Brujah, Nathan Stone and Joshua Davies had also stuck to her like glue knowing that she carried with her the Hand of Set. But then Prince Hagen had taken the dagger from her – it was needed in defence of the domain. Not long after that those who protected her were gone, presumably to rescue Gretchen. It was then that Hetfield struck, humiliating Miranda in front of the nation, her timing perfect. Gerst, her own prince and clansman was there of course and she held little doubt that he would have had prior warning of the play but she also knew he would do nothing to stop it. He knew he didn’t like her and she didn’t like him but loyalty and the Oath to the House and Clan should transcend such petty feelings. How dare he? Oath-breaker! Once she may have been able to turn to the Ventrue but from Montrose’s indelicate comments she knew their fingers were also in this pie, despite Hagen’s gratitude for the Hand of Set.And so bereft of allies and alone she ran.
Eventually the swirling clouds in her fear addled brain began to calm. She slowed her steps and came to a halt. Miranda spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to gather her frantic thoughts. It was then that the darkness enshrouded her.
Lasombra! was her first panicked thought as it would be for any Kindred who had spent more than five minutes in Adelaide where the Sabbat were so prolific. Miranda froze then crouched down in the darkness, drawing her ensorcelled stake as she did so awaiting the inevitable attack. It may be pitch black to even her honed, unnatural eyes but this stake did not need to strike true. As long as it pierced the skin of a vampire a splinter would always find its way to the heart, paralysing its prey.
Perhaps five, no more than six heartbeats of a mortal did she wait in the blind silence before she felt them. Two tendrils tried to bind her as another smacked into her cheek. Miranda lunged blindly in the direction the attack was coming from and struck nothing but corporal shadow.
The attacks cam again, across her arms, her stomach, her throat. There were things in the darkness with her. She bared her fangs and allowed the Beast to show itself through her eyes in a frightening visage that would cause most creatures to flee in terror. When the attacks came again they did seem lessened but she was still outnumbered and losing. Again, her legs, her other cheek. She pulled out the rose from beneath her cloak, its soft pewter belying the power that was infused within it. Any Cainite, dæmon or ghoul that touched it would suffer. But this was merely shadow and the rose, useless in her desperate plight for survival, slipped from her fingers as the tendrils bound her and beat her down, again, and again, and again.
Miranda screamed. There was nothing left for her to do. She kept screaming until the deep sleep of torpor overtook her exhausted and defeated mind and body.
Even in this great sleep a sense of passing time prevailed. An hour later, no more than that or maybe less, the Tremere’s consciousness awoke. There was an impression of descent, of falling though she could not feel her torn and broken body.
She floated past a hill, a forest, then a huge gate made from mountains on which were carved a message in great letters of a language she had never seen but the words of which she somehow knew
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY,
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE ENTERNAL PAIN,
THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST
JUSTICE URGED ON MY HIGH ARTIFICER;
MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY,
THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS
WERE MADE, AND I ENDURE ETNERALLY.
ABANDON EVER HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE.
It was here that she came to rest at the foot of the mountains that were really gates that were really mountains that were really ga – a sharp, high cackle pierced her ears, ending the loop of her thoughts and she realised that she had a body again. It was the first sound she had heard since starting her descent. Perhaps it was because she hadn’t had ears before but she didn’t think so. Looking around she saw a devilish creature no higher than a toddler but with thin, spindly limbs and a disgorged belly and bulging eyes. It was black all over but not the rich chocolate of Negro skin. It was black as night and where the skin of a human of such pallor would soften to pink or softer brown on the palms, feet and paler parts of the body, this creature paled to an unholy and sickly green.
It stared at her with its bulging red eyes, a malicious, wicked grin splitting its face and it laughed at her again. With a curt movement of its head it motioned for Miranda to follow. Just as in a dream where conscious thought is absent and your actions often not your own, she arose and followed for there was nothing else she could do.
The creature teased and taunted her without saying a word, cackling at her as it gambolled ahead, leading the lady warlock through the gates and down.
After a time they came across a huge bull the colour of scarlet that seemed in some ways partly that of a man. It stood perhaps nine feet tall and stood on two legs, his arms crossed over a chest of rippling muscles. Its long tail undulated as it regarded the woman standing before it. A minute, perhaps two passed and the tail began to wrap around its owner’s body.
With each coil, Miranda’s heart grew more and more fearful. Upon the eighth coil the bull bit his own tail and let out a bellow of pain. It looked at her with its black bovine eyes and pronounced in a booming voice “This one has been judged. To the Eighth Level, Tenth Pouch and Fourth Pit you will take her.” Miranda’s guide cackled with such malicious glee that it chilled her very soul. And so the unholy little creature led her on, past the great Minos that had judged her, and down.
The path they followed took them down, across a vast plain where the very air emanated sorrowful clam, down into a pit where violent winds berated and batted the bodies trapped within the gale.
Here people were being harried and their naked flesh ripped asunder by a giant three-headed dog and now there she saw ones rolling great circular weights back and forth, back and forth, eternally like human pendulums.
They crossed a river on a ferry whose boatman can’t be bribed. In the murky waters, angry souls hacked and slashed at each other in their fury and below the surface bodies could be seen lying on the riverbed, gurgling their despair in the muddy waters. When they reached the other side the others who shared the passage (for the boat is never empty of passengers, yet carries not a single one on the return trip) fell in a naked tumble onto the bank. Miranda kept her feet and stepped lightly, following her cackling guide.
And so they continued down.
They came upon a great city whose dull, menacing walls were made of iron. Within the bastion people were encased in stone, upside down with the souls of their feet free but being scorched by eternal fire. The two travellers pressed through the city.
On and on, down they went.
They passed a river of boiling blood, centaurs lining its banks shooting with their wicked arrows any who sought to escape, passed across a desert of burning sand where inhabitants were periodically subjected to malevolent rains of fire. Through a forest of malformed, unnatural trees, a sorrowful soul trapped within each one and vicious looking birds with the heads and chests of fearsome women nesting in the twisted branches.
Eventually there came into sight on the bleak horizon a huge structure, which was made, like the City of Dis through which they had already passed, of iron. The monument was built in a parody (ironically enough) of an amphitheatre set into the ground like a great pit. As they neared a growing dread blossomed within the young Tremere’s breast, lodging itself comfortably next to the bird that still nestled fitfully within her heart. A single word came into her head – no it was a name. Malebolge. When her guide noticed his ward’s growing reluctance to near the dreaded place he urged her on. There was nought else she could do but follow.
And so down they went into Malebolge, the Eighth Level of Hell.
Each level of the amphitheatre was a pit, each with its own pockets of torture for the sinners who had found themselves there from their mortal misdeeds. They passed those being whipped by great, horned dæmons; here others forced to walk in coats of lead. There, being dunked in boiling pitch and further still wallowing in excrement. Souls trapped ever burning in eternal flame. For others, serpents wrapped around their bodies, squeezing them into gross deformity.
Still Miranda and her gleeful guide continued down.
At last they came to a halt. They were at the mouth of a pit whose victims lay and writhed on the ground, scratching eternally at seeping, leprous sores. A dæmon came to meet them, a frightening beast that would quell any mortal heart. Miranda’s heart was not mortal and she stood firm before the denizen of Hell’s study.
“This is the one you wanted me to bring here” whined her guide in a supplicant tone, the first words he had spoken in the warlock’s hearing. It sounded to her like a selfish child whining for a hand out of sweets.
“You have completed your task, now begone from my sight, wretch!” boomed the dæmon and in a trice the pathetic creature had dashed away.
The dæmon turned from his lackey and regarded the young woman standing before him. He spoke, his voice ringing out.
“Miranda,” he began, the echo bouncing off the walls of the pits. “You have been judged and you have been found wanting. You are a liar and so you find yourself here. The ways of that which you became are steeped in deception and deceit but you are a liar amongst liars. You are not Jillian Datlow, you are not Miranda Richards-Thorne, you are not the Lady Miranda. One of these you so foolishly discarded, the others are complete fabrications. You became a vampire through deceit for you were a liar well before you joined the ranks of the Cainites. You took positions of importance by claiming age and powers you did not possess and were granted assignments based on abilities that you lied to yourself that you had the skills to accomplish. You lived an existence that was based on nothing but mendacity and fabrications. Yet you find yourself here not through your lies but through the betrayal and treachery of others, sent to your death before your time, destined to writhe in agony in the floor of the valley below me until the end of days.”
Miranda felt rage and anger at those who had condemned her to this fate blossom within her breast and a desperate desire to deliver unto them as they had to her but the dæmon continued.
“Unless of course we make a deal.” She raised an eyebrow and regarded the creature warily. Upon seeing this reaction he laughed. “Return to the world and deliver to me the souls of three of those who wronged you, and there were plenty who had their fingers in that poisoned pie you were fed, and your soul is free from eternal damnation. More’s the pity,” he added with a cruel grimace that could be interpreted as a wry smile.
Miranda gazed around her, her eyes drinking the agony of the condemned and allowed her ears to be inundated by their torturous cries. Had she not been brought to this place and seen what future lay before her she would have laughed in the dæmon’s face rather than accept an infernal offer. Now she knew what awaited her refusal and why should she suffer when those who had condemned her to this fate walked free? She quite literally had nothing to lose and truly everything to gain.
She looked at the dæmon and simply said “Tell me how.” The creature laughed again, this time so raucously that the echoes increased the volume ten-fold.
And he told her what she needed to do.
Well, not really awoke because what had happened had not been a dream but her consciousness had come back to her body. A bolt of lighting made of fury, rage, anger, pure vengeance, seared through her being. She would wreak terrible revenge upon those who had killed her but she would need to get back to Adelaide where most of the players in this little game resided.
She had never called the Nosferatu Clan Head a Sabbat. She may have implied that he was a sympathiser but even that she was careful never to say outright. Rick Keegan had been the one to do that. And so what if she had said it, anyway? What can you really expect when the first thing he said to the Tremere of Adelaide had been that he was on amicable terms with the Antitribu and was dealing in information with them? Nosferatu or not, information broker or not, that was clearly blatant treason to the Camarilla. It hardly helped his case that not much later he openly offered to sell the location of the prince’s haven to the highest bidder. She should have killed him then and there, she knew that now but at the time she would have lost the support of the court. What ridiculous, Mickey Mouse politics that had been! Kill a sympathiser in a city overrun with Sabbat and lose the support of the local Camarilla. It made her fear-ridden brain want to scream in frustration. And of course there were the other more trifling matters that had been trumped up.
Pulling a stake on the Nosferatu Harpy whilst on Elysium. Ha! The keeper might claim it as Elysium until he was blue in the face but that wouldn’t make it so. She remembered the incident well. She was the Tremere Primogen, she was hosting, it was her ground and it was not Elysium. The Prince had not declared it so, nor had either of them been informed of the keeper’s claim. And yes, she had pulled a stake but not on the Nosferatu, Jacob. She hadn’t so much as waved it in his general direction! He had just happened to be standing in front of her when the vision hit. She’d never had a vision before and it took her a few moments to realise what was going on. She and Jacob had talked and sorted out the misunderstanding, the keeper had been fired from his position and stripped of his status. That should have been the end of it. It was a local matter and dealt with locally. It should never have come to the attention of the Royal Harpy many months later.
Perhaps the most fabricated accusation had been that of insulting Lady Catalina. She had only ever spoken to the elder twice and been duly deferential each time, saying little more than good evening and waiting to speak until spoken to –unlike Sharn Dior who tripped over her and then turned her back on the influential Nosferatu at the Symposium in October the previous year. But this was Gregor’s play and had probably just been thrown in for good measure. Lady Catalina was afterall his clansman.
One step at a time.
First she would need to move. Gradually, Miranda became aware of her body; toes, legs, fingers. Good. Eyes, still shut. She could tell that she was still lying on the road where she had been killed. Arms, stomach, chest. Then she became aware of something else. She probed deeper. As soon as she became aware of it, it was too late to stop it. The debilitating pain that had been lying in wait for her to notice coursed through her body from the fatal injuries she had sustained like molten lava. Miranda let out a gasp of agony and opened her eyes. Yes, she still lay where she died and a thick blanket of darkness with no sign of dawn enveloped the city. This time she truly had been reborn into darkness. A cracked smile played upon her bloodied lips.
Nearby a house collapsed into rubble from the earthquake the previous day beckoned to her, offering a place of relative safety. She crawled towards it and worked her way down, deep, deep down into the detritus where she could rest and recuperate before starting on her terrible, infernal quest for freedom and vengeance.
The model for hell
was based on the Allen Mandelbaum translation of The Divine Comedy of Dante
Aligieri – Inferno published by Bantam 1982